FIGURE SKATING: With just 65 days to go until the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the first athletes have today been officially selected to the Australian Team.
Figure skaters Brendan Kerry, Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman were welcomed to the Team by Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman at an event in Melbourne this morning.
“We are looking to send our biggest and best-credentialed team ever to Sochi, and it is really great to have the first of those athletes officially named today,” Chesterman said. “Figure skating is one of the most popular and highest rating sports at the Winter Olympics and we are proud to be fielding a team of vibrant young athletes who will do their country proud.”
For the ice dancing pair of O’Brien and Merriman, being selected to their first Olympic Team is the realisation of a life-long dream and years of dedication to the sport they love.
“It’s always been a huge dream to make an Olympic Team,” 23-year-old O’Brien said.
“It feels like all the hard work, sacrifice and big moves we have made in the last few years have been worth it. Being selected today is the icing on the cake.”
O’Brien and Merriman, both hailing from Sydney’s western suburbs, have been friends since they were kids, and have been ice dance partners since 1998.
In the lead up to the Vancouver 2010 Games, the pair was on track to make their Olympic debut until a sudden shocking illness put Merriman out of action on the eve of the Olympic qualification tournament.
Disappointment turned to determination as they set their sights four years into the future, on a berth at the Sochi Games.
The demons of their Olympic qualification were put to rest in September this year, when O’Brien and Merriman put together two strong performances in Oberstdorf, Germany to finish sixth overall and book their Olympic tickets.
“We have improved our technical and performance aspects since Oberstdorf,” O’Brien said. “We’re happy with our strength which is a result of our training and we are aiming to keep that momentum going through to the Games.
“Our goal for Sochi is to make the free dance, which means we need a top-20 result in the short dance. With this goal in mind we have been really focusing on our short dance so that we can put ourselves in the best possible position to qualify.
“Then we just want to have a fun and great performance in the free because this will combine with our technical strength to give us a great result. Making the top 15 to 20 is a realistic goal for us.”
Putting the figure skating world on notice at the Oberstdorf tournament was Brendan Kerry, also from Sydney.
Despite a broken wrist, Kerry delivered two impressive performances to finish fourth out of the athletes seeking Olympic qualification and with the top six qualifying, booked his ticket to Sochi.
He also ensured a unique family history would continue to be written - his mother Monica MacDonald competed in the ice dancing at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and his younger sister Chantelle was Australia’s figure skating representative at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics last year in Innsbruck.
Of the 30 men contesting the individual program, Kerry will likely be one of the younger athletes in Sochi next year, but his trajectory of improvement throughout this season hints at big things for the 19-year-old skater.
Australia will also field a competitor in the ladies’ individual event for Sochi, with the athlete set to be named later this year.
Today’s selection event provides the perfect preview to the Australian Figure Skating Championships which will take place on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 December at the Icehouse in Melbourne.
Australia expects to send a team of between 55 and 60 athletes to the Games, across 11 disciplines, making it Australia's biggest team ever. The final team will be known in late January.